What? You're surprised I went with this version of him, instead of the one with the wonky collar? Really??


The alternate title for this post should probably be ‘Three Phrases Coined by Shakespeare Which Are Quite Funny When Taken Literally, Only You Don’t Want to, Because Doing So Could Result in Property Damage, Embarrassment, or a Trip to the ER.’

But that’s way too long for a Monday.

Ol’ Billy had it going on, and if it weren’t for him, countless students would be sitting at their desks, texting their bfs/gfs/omg/tmi right now instead of searching for the Cole’s Notes version of Hamlet.

So we thank you, William, for giving us not only a way to keep teenagers annoyed and busy, but also for providing us with these three choices phrases*!

  • “Fight fire with fire”

Here’s a good one. You know what it means: to use more extreme methods than you usually would, to defeat someone. It first appeared in King John, 1595.

Be stirring as the time; be fire with fire;
Threaten the threatener and outface the brow
Of bragging horror

Note: I do not recommend actually fighting fire with fire. Generally that results in more fire. Cue Fire Department.

  • “In a pickle”

What it means: in a quandry, fix, or difficult position. The interesting thing here (and I say that totally assuming that you are word nerds like myself, because if you’re not, MAN you will be bored here) – is that the meaning of the phrase ‘in a pickle’ actually translates to how disoriented and mixed up stewed vegetables would be in a pickle. Today, a pickle comes in a jar and you put one on your burger. But back in the days of funny collars and tights, a pickle was a mix of vegetables, all preserved together with salty vinegar. Here’s where it first popped up, in The Tempest:

And Trinculo is reeling ripe: where should they
Find this grand liquor that hath gilded ’em?
How camest thou in this pickle?

Fairly certain we need to put ‘How camest thou in this pickle’ on a T-shirt. Also to note: I have an image of a misguided Shakespeare scholar jumping into a vat of pickle juice now. Do not attempt, for herein lies your embarrassment.

  • “Wild goose chase”

As a girl who’s suffered many a goose nip, I can wholeheartedly recommend that you do not ever, under any circumstances CHASE a wild goose. It will only end badly for you and the goose will end up with an even bigger ego. (If you’ve ever met a goose, you probably know they are about 95% ego, 5% feathers). But I digress. Here’s where the first wild goose chase appeared, in our old favorite New Moon Romeo and Juliet, 1592:

Romeo: Switch and spurs, switch and spurs; or I’ll cry a match.

Mercutio: Nay, if thy wits run the wild-goose chase, I have done, for thou hast more of the wild-goose in one of thy wits than, I am sure, I have in my whole five.

Well said, Mercutio.


*It doesn’t end here, so if you’d like to class up your day with a Shakespeare fix you can check out this link for more! There are 135 in all, so get your nerd face ready if you click that link.



2 thoughts on “Fire, Pickles, and Geese: 3 Things You Owe to Shakespeare”

  1. This is the best/funniest/most informative post I have read in a long time.
    I too am a scientist. A geophysicist, from Ireland as opposed to a zoologist from Canada. Shakespeare! To this day he unites all of us in one way or another.

    There is a cheeky line in your profile which was a lol moment for me. Sorry Mr Shakespeare, we are not so poetic these days.

    With your kind permission, I intend to replace the current quote on my email signature:
    ‘I’m not a writer with a drinking problem, I’m a drinker with a writing problem’, Dorothy Parker, with:
    “I have a pen, and I’m not afraid to use it”. Jess Keating

    1. What a lovely commment, Dolores! So nice to hear from you. Feel free to use that line wherever you need! 😀

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